Hepatitis: in children and adults, what are the symptoms to watch out for?

Jaundice, abdominal pain and nausea are among the symptoms of hepatitis contamination. (©Semevent / Pixabay)

The epidemic remains unexplained for the moment. Since the beginning of April, dozens of children across Europe have been affected by a new form of severe acute hepatitis. 74 children more exactly, quantified the World Health Organization (WHO).

France is one of the countries concerned, with two cases detected in Lyon in children aged three and seven. The health authorities remain very vigilant, the signs of hepatitis not always appearing clearly, especially in young children. Exactly, how recognize the symptoms of this disease?

Five viruses

Hepatitis is a disease affecting the liver at different levels, from chronic inflammation to acute inflammation. Nowadays, five main categories hepatitis were identified by the authorities. They are designated by the letters A, B, C, D, E, depending on the mode of infection (contaminated water or food, consumption of toxic substances, viral).

  • For hepatitis A and E

In the case of hepatitis A, details the Social Security website, the incubation time varies from 15 to 30 days on average, but can wait 50 days. The disease evolves in two stages, the pre-icteric phase (which can last from one to three weeks) and the icteric phase. Each has its own symptoms.

For the pre-jaundice phase, watch for nausea, loss of appetite, great general fatigue, pain in the abdomen and/or joints, sometimes hives. Flu-like symptoms may also appear (such as fever, headache and muscle aches).

Then, the icteric phase is marked by dark urine (like tea), discoloration of the stools (which become pale or gray) and especially a yellowing eyes and/or skin.

The symptoms of the pre-jaundice phase of hepatitis A lessen and then disappear in the days following the onset of jaundice. Sometimes there is no jaundice: only the signs of the pre-jaundice phase exist.

Social Security
  • For hepatitis B and D

“The symptoms of hepatitis B are fickle and the disease can go unnoticed. […] Frequently, acute infection with the hepatitis B virus does not give any apparent manifestations”, warns Social Security from the outset.

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The incubation period of hepatitis B varies between 30 and 180 days. To confirm the disease, it is necessary to do a blood test.

Symptoms suggestive of hepatitis B or acute hepatitis D are: malaise, some irritability, headache, sleep disturbances, pain in the abdomen (especially on the right side), itching and weight loss. You may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever and body aches.

The patient can be cured as well as evolve towards a form of chronic hepatitis.

Social Security

In some rare situations (about 1% of patients), hepatitis B is “fulminant”, in the sense that liver damage is so extensive that they become potentially fatal and require an emergency transplant.

The incubation period for acute hepatitis C is two to 12 weeks.

General fatigue, yellowing of the skin, darker urine and paler stools than usual are the most common symptoms of hepatitis C infection.

But the challenge is the same as for hepatitis B: the symptoms are often absent or not very suggestive. This is the case for 90% of contaminations, notes Social Security. To establish a true diagnosis, it is necessary to go through a screening via a blood test.

In 15 to 30% of cases, the patient recovers from hepatitis C. But in the majority of cases, the disease becomes chronic. It is then necessary to monitor skin problems, joint pain, muscle pain, general fatigue, and sometimes even neurological problems.

To develop, hepatitis D requires that the patient has already been infected with hepatitis B. Also, like her, the symptoms of hepatitis D can go completely unnoticed.

Symptoms suggestive of acute hepatitis D are also similar to those of hepatitis B: such as fever, nausea, jaundice. They can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms (fever, body aches, etc.)

Same pattern for the incubation period: like hepatitis B, it can reach 180 days.

Hepatitis E, which is transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food (meat, fruits and vegetables, seafood grown in contaminated water, etc.), presents symptoms similar to hepatitis A. The renal system can also be affected.

“In 15 to 20% of cases, there is an associated neurological impairment”, emphasizes to Health passport Jean-Marie Péron, head of the hepatology department at the Toulouse University Hospital.

Its incubation period varies from two to eight weeks, but averages around 40 days. Here too, there is a risk that hepatitis E will become “fulminant”, with an emergency transplant necessary to avoid death.

Hepatitis A and B vaccines

In the case of hepatitis A and B, vaccines have been developed. Vaccination is recommended for the first, it is mandatory for the second.

The hepatitis B vaccine is mandatory for all children from two months old born on or after January 1, 2018, as well as for certain professionals. The full list of sectors concerned can be found on the Public Service website.

On the other hand, no vaccine, therefore, for the other forms of hepatitis. “Only blood tests can detect the hepatitis C virus,” concludes the government site.

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